What is a Word?
N. Learner – 2020    

What is a word?
W-o-r-d
Wooo-rrrr-ddd

Palabra
Mot
Wort
Kotoba
Zi

What is a word?
These sounds that emerge 
From an orifice 
At the center of a round mass
Atop a structure of animated flesh and bone

“Word”

Say it over and over, and it sounds ridiculous

Word, word, word, word…

But add another burst of acoustic energy
With similar inflection and tone
And something magical happens:

Word
Bird

Ah, a rhyme

It tickles the ear in a most delightful way

I heard the bird’s word 
From the tree sweetly singing
Its song took me back
To my carefree upbringing
Playing ‘til dinner
In the woods by the river
Feeling the breeze
Through the trees all a quiver
Yes, I heard the bird’s word
Inside me, something stirred

What is a word?

Dogs bark
Wolves howl
Cats meow
Whales sing
Humans write poems

 


A Ghost Is Following Me
N. Learner - 2020

A ghost is following me
But I’m not scared
He’s not unlike me…
Middle aged, middle soft
We don’t care

I know this ghost
His kind eyes and smile 
Once warmed 
My heart

His gentle laugh  
Calm aura 
In the daily storm
Were safe harbor 

This ghost and I are not so different
Looking at our lives
And the meaning of it all
But now I’m left with new questions
Why, my friend, did you not call?

Who will bring us tangerines and cherries?
Who will share the stories of the bands that we both knew?
What kind of pain did carry?
Was there something more that we could do?

A ghost is following me
But I’m not scared
He’s not unlike me…
Middle aged, middle soft
We don’t care

I know this ghost
His kind eyes and smile 
Once warmed 
My heart 

I’ll take this ghost
He follows my tracks
Yes, I’ll take this ghost 
But what I really want 
Is the human back

 


Little Celebrations
N. Learner – 2018

Big celebrations 
Are fine
Weddings, birthdays, graduations
All are genuine

But little celebrations, 
Don’t overlook
Those small victories, 
In which you partook

You know:

Cashing your pay – yay
Going outside to play – yay
Making it to Friday – yay
Avoiding the cliché – yay
Doctor saying, “you’re okay” – yay
Basking in the sun’s ray – yay
Taking in a cabaret – yay
Drinking cabernet – yay 
Riding the railway – yay
Sailors shouting, “anchors away” – yay 
Eating lemon sorbet – yay
Not scuffing the parquet – yay
Jumping in a stack of hay – yay
Winning at croquet – yay
Dancing to reggae – yay
Meeting someone named Jose – yay
Riding in a one-horse open sleigh – yay 
Sitting on the dock by the bay – yay
Finding lots of words that end with “ay” – cool

So mark your milestones with Champaign toasts
Raise a glass to the best and most
What I find most worthy and great 
Are the small moments in life…these I celebrate  

 


Bullies in the School
N. Learner – 2019 

There are bullies in the school
Who make up the rules
About what it means 
To be cool

From their confident grins
To the tilt of their chins
They know who’s out 
And who’s in

They saunter down the hall
Unnaturally tall
Looking down on 
The rest of us oddballs

They never feel fright
With a laugh, they’re always right
They play to perfection
Cool kid stereotype

For us insecure souls
Still learning our roles
We see an unattainable 
Goal

‘Cuz I’m zero on the scoreboard
I’m totally awkward 
No one tells me, 
Baby, you’re adored (besides my parents)

When they pass out the invites
My name’s nowhere in sight
Once again
I’m alone Saturday night

I want to engage
Be more chill, turn a page
But I can’t, and my feelings 
Turn to rage

So, I lash out online
Bare my soul, speak my mind
And my words are 
Out there to find

Alas, those verbal bombs
Are shared with the moms
Who express alarm, concern
And great qualms

I’m totally ostracized 
Forbidden to socialize
With the cool kids, who 
Now I despise

But that’s okay…I’m aware

The years pass along
Each day I grow strong
Learn to love who I am,
Carry on

Now, out of my youth
I see clear the truth
That childhood’s not meant to 
Be smooth

Be different, be queer
Be a little bit weird
Be yourself 
You’ll have nothing to fear

Through school we must navigate
But eventually we graduate
Don’t let bullies…
Determine your fate

 


Coat of Dreams
N. Learner – 2018 

Wind the bobbin
Thread the needle 
Lay the cloth
Across the table

Take this pattern
Pin it tight
Smooth the edges down
Make it fit right

Touch with care
Measure twice
Sew with purpose
Cut precise

Button up against the cold
In this garment you can grow old
Add a scarf around your neck
It’s everything that you’d expect

To keep you warm
Keep you dry
With pockets deep
Where hands reside

It is strong
With sturdy seams 
Made to last forever
Your coat of dreams

 


First Love
N. Learner – 2021    

I stand by the wall 
Of the junior high dance
Trying to look tall
Cool and advanced

There ‘cross the room
She moves with such grace
I catch a smile on her face

My friends punch my arm
Tell me to move it
Build up some courage 
Go out and prove it 

I’m not afraid
I’m not a weakling
I can act on my feelings

I take a deep breath
And walk ‘cross the room
Her friends start to giggle
Her cheeks start to bloom
I ask her to dance
My palms start to sweat
To my joy…she says yes

She says yes!

To the dancefloor we go
I take her hand there
The music turns slow
For a moment we stand and stare

Then she grips my arms
I hold her waist
We lock in an awkward embrace

Slowly we sway
To the beat of the song
I pull her in close
My heart beats along
I give her a squeeze
We’re on the same track
To my joy…she squeezes back

She squeezes back!

The dance is a blur
Of music and light
Before I realize 
It’s the end of the night

I look in her eyes 
She looks deep in mine
We’re reading each other’s minds

Soon we must go
But there’s one more thing
I must let her know
Of what I am feeling
I open my lips
But words can’t say this
To my joy…we kiss

We kiss!

We KISS!

Oh, there’s nothing above
Pure first love

 


Lessons Learned
N. Learner – 2019 

When I was young
I used to be smart
Understood the world
Could play my part…

Son, brother, student, lover, 
husband, father, worker, boss

Life was concise
We knew the facts
Knew right and wrong
Virtue from vice…

Health, wellbeing, love, respect, 
debauchery, deception, denial, deflect

The path was clear
History on track
Our prospects bright
No looking back

Freedom, democracy, walls coming down
Human rights, technology, a global boomtown

And then things changed
The world fell apart
Foundations cracked
Smashed the apple cart…

Endless war, mass shootings, hatred, blame 
Terrorism, global warming, walls going up, shame

Always getting better?
History’s long view?
Always progressing?
This just wasn’t true

I used to be carefree
Now I’m concerned
I so look back on
Lessons learned…

Progress isn’t linear
Things can go bad
Things could be worse
Things have been worse
Things can get better
Things will get better

 


Hurricane Florence
N. Learner – 2018 

 
Like a giant scoop of whipping cream 
Mega clouds swirl around a greedy eye   
Dripping wet globs at race-car speeds
This enormous confection of uncertainty 
Inches forward to determine our fate
 
Well coifed men and women move about our screens
Warning all who listen of the coming mess
Millions take heed, move to higher ground
Tough guys ride it out
Muttering to themselves, “it’s never as bad as they say”
 
Others sweep into frantic action, frantic stores
Rolling through aisles in a giddy dance of disaster
Sedate suburbanites tingle at the possibility of something 
Big, bad and dangerous headed their way 

Category 4? - Wimpy
Bring on Category 11!
 
Shelves clear of milk, bread, pasta, wine, batteries, candles, 
Water, beer, toilet-paper, canned food, cat food
Dog food, baby food, more wine
 
Where will you be when the big one hits?
It’s coming, this hurricane with the gentle, granny name Florence
Will we survive? Will our wifi work?

 


Things Are Breaking
N. Learner – 2021 

I walk through the fire
Breathe in the smoke
Trees burn like matches
On hot air I choke

Things are breaking
Down in this world of our making

I walk through the downpour
Swept in the flood 
Homes fill with water
I step through the rock and mud

Things are breaking
Down in this world of our making

I look all around me
Past one point five degrees
When all comes crashing down
Where will we flee?
Where is the rain?
Why so much rain?
Can we ever make this
Whole again?

When deep wells run dry
And grain starts to wither
When shorelines go under
And streets turn to rivers

Things are breaking down 
In this world of our making

I long for the tall trees
I long for a cool breeze
I long for endless possibilities
I long for tranquility
I once longed for days of 
Calm across globe 
Now all I long for…
Is hope 

 


Begin Again
N. Learner – May 2019

With coffee strong 
I’m primed for progress
I plunge in head-long
Can taste success

From start to end
This task at hand
I will complete
It will be grand

And then I pause – what’s that?
A stomach twitch?
My hunger grows
I’ll make a sandwich

But now I have 
A thirst to quench
I’ll drink my soda
On this park bench

This day is long
The shadows grow
Time slips by
Where did it go

Once again
Is it my fate?
To dilly-dally 
Procrastinate

My project sits
To my chagrin
I’m left no choice
But to…begin again

 


Hot and Cold Love Affair
N. Learner – 2019

His breath steams in the driving sleet 
Blazing a trail through the snow, he reaches his destination covered in icicles
Inside, a toasty room awaits, illuminated by a crackling fireplace 
Rubbing his frozen hands together, he slowly thaws out
A band sizzles on stage, the guitarist playing a smoking solo
Music sparks his interest, but he has other fish to fry

Then he sees her, the fiery woman of his fevered dreams 
She runs a finger slowly down the frosty glass
He approaches cautiously, his self-esteem on thin ice
He’s been burnt before by an old flame

Hello, he says with all the coolness he can muster
Hello, she responded with a sultry purr
Chills run down his spine, his chest ignites

Is it me, or is it hot in here? he asks
She gives him an icy stare
He freezes in place
Then she smiles warmly, her eyes alit
Yes, I’m about ready to melt

Let’s skate out of here, shall we?, he proposes
Yes, let’s blow this popsicle stand, she responds
The woman slides into her coat, a layer of body heat to rebuff the wind
The man puts on his hat, a layer of wool to foil the nippy blast ahead

Arm in arm, they exit into the bitter night air
And enter into a torrid love affair

 


Perfect Day in Del Ray 
N. Learner – 2016

Got out of bed this morning
The sun is shining bright
Drank down two cups of coffee
Oh yeah, I’m feeling right

I know just what I’m going to do
Take a stroll down the Avenue

I head out down the sidewalk
I see the flowers grow
I pass the morning joggers
I pass the bungalows

The picture here is all complete
Walking down the back streets

All is good – in my neighborhood
It’s a perfect day – in Del Ray

I make it to Mt. Vernon
The shops are trim and spruce
The scene is like a postcard
Check out our red caboose

We used to be a dusty old railway yard
Now we’re on the vanguard 

All is good – in my neighborhood
It’s a perfect day – in Del Ray

Kids and dogs and frozen custard
Yoga moms and guys with long beards
Wine and cheese, and gourmet Tex-Mex
Our street fairs, they the best
Farmers market, fancy hats
Recycling our table scraps
The pharmacists 
They even know your name

Our music school and coffee shops
The hardware store is down the block
The sidewalk café’s always filled
We even have an artist guild
So come on down and make it fast
Our neighborhood is unsurpassed
You’re welcome here to spend some time
Hurry now, come on don’t delay… 

Del Ray

It feels just like the old days
Where neighbors say hello
Kids walk and bike to school
Barbeque on patios

We’re a village outside a town, outside 
A big city – we’re very pretty

All is good – in my neighborhood
It’s a perfect day – in Del Ray

 


Spiders
N. Learner – 2018

The tingles you send down my spine
Darting across the floor on eight hairy legs 
Almost as unnatural as slithering along without any
Strange creature, you

Still, I do admire your construction skills 
A home of fine silk
Stronger than iron
Glistening in the morning dew
Geometrically balanced

Outdoors, you’re okay
Eating mosquitoes, flies and other unsavories
Inside, it’s another story

Let’s agree to some ground rules
I won’t squash you into a sticky blob
If you don’t climb into my bed
And bite me on the neck

So go about your arachnid ways
Spinning your web
Viewing the world through eight beady eyes 
Just do it in your world, please

Spiders!